Can Wizards attract big free agents?

Can Wizards attract big free agents?
August 3, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Who will benefit the most from John Wall's extension?

Who was the last big-name free agent that decided to come to play for the Wizards?

That closest that qualifies is Gilbert Arenas, and that happened more than a decade ago. While he was a coveted player in free agency, Arenas wasn't considered a marquee talent. He’d just finished his second season with the Golden State Warriors, a 2001 second-round draft pick who averaged 18.3 points per game and was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

In the wake of the Wizards extending John Wall for five years and $80 million through 2019 earlier this week, CEO and majority owner Ted Leonsis admitted that has to change for the Wizards to become a perennial playoff team again. They can’t wait for what’s left over and hope to remain a contender.

“It shows a lot of confidence in our fan base and in our franchise and in our city to have a player of his caliber say he wants to be here,” Leonsis said of Wall. “That’s a big deliverable that we wanted, that we could develop and retain good players and I think it will help us not only keep future players…but when the time is right to attract brand name, marquee free agents. This is a very important step for our team.”

The first test will come soon enough. After the 2013-14 season, a lot of salary will come of the books so the Wizards can become major players in the market again. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza have expiring deals that will free up more than $22 million. Then there are team options on the rookie contracts of Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton that total around $7 million that might not be picked up. 

Wall never has been one to go out of his way to recruit other players and friends in the NBA to come play with him in Washington. He won't have to if the Wizards are able to show progress by making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and promise for the future.

Quality veteran free agents, particularly those who haven't won a championship, tend to go to teams that can pay them and give them a chance to compete in the postseason. That's why someone like Al Harrington, a physical, mid-range shooting power forward which is a great need for the Wizards, probably wouldn't consider them after the Orlando Magic waived him Friday. He's 33, in his 15th season and averaged double figures 11 seasons in a row as a role player.

Harrington's value was about $7 million based on his last contract. Aside from the Wizards not being able to pay that asking price right now, even if they had salary cap room they'd have to potentially pay him above whatever his value is to get him. (Note: Harrington is coming off a staph infection in his knee and it's hard to determine what his value will be at this point. It could drop significantly and still be out of the Wizards' range. If teams are scared off, then this could change). 

When a team is a winner, an established talent such as Harrington is actually willing to take a pay cut to play for your franchise. Even play for the veteran minimum. That's why they run to LeBron James with the Miami Heat, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks. Until recently, they went to the Los Angeles Lakers to play with Kobe Bryant, too. 

The money will be there for Washington. Wall just has to make his team a winner. And they can win in the open market, too.